Sonos Arc vs Bose Smart Soundbar 900: Atmos minimalism
Which of these simplified sound solutions will serve you best?
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So you’re ready to step into the world of Dolby Atmos, but you also have some limitations. You need something stylish and simple that won’t require running cables everywhere—and you’re equally interested in immersive, powerful, and detailed sound.
A single-piece Dolby Atmos soundbar from Sonos or Bose could be the perfect solution. Both the Sonos Arc and Bose Smart Soundbar 900 offer a luscious taste of cinematic brilliance in a succinct package, alongside plenty of extras like smart assistant support, multi-room audio, and even the ability to expand your system down the line. But which is right for you? Below, we’ll dissect these two slabs of sound in a number of categories so you can find the perfect choice.
This is an easy one. In the world of tight supply chains and limited chips, both of these bars will run you a cool $900 (or just short of it). What’s more, you’ll rarely find either of these systems on sale, so this section is a cut-and-dry, even heat.
Our pick: Draw
Design and controls
Both of these bars offer slick style with minimalism up front, but it has to be said right off the bat: Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 is more lovely to look at. Along with the strikingly similar Bose Smart Soundbar 700, the 900 is among the most stylish soundbars I’ve come across. For an Atmos bar, it’s extremely slim at just over two inches tall and just under 42 inches across. A metal grill at the front meets a glossy glass plate across the top for an understated, chic aesthetic.
As mentioned in our review (linked above), the 900 is minimalist to a fault in some cases, most notably its onboard digital display, which is little more than a flashing white LED pattern. But it does offer a few controls on top to go along with a fully equipped app for control over things like basic EQ, smart assistants, grouping with other Bose speakers to create a multi-room sound system, and more. Unlike Sonos, it also comes with a separate remote. If you connect via the HDMI ARC/eARC input you’ll mostly be using your TV’s remote instead, but it’s a handy backup.
The Sonos Arc is also attractive in its minimalist design. It has a certain je ne sais quoi, and it looks good on your TV stand, but at well over three inches high and 45 inches across, it’s more log than bar. That pays off when it comes to performance, but if we’re judging on looks alone, the Arc defers to its rival here. Like the Bose bar, its visual interface is wanting, with only a colored LED pattern to trace what’s going on.
As for controls, the Sonos app is arguably even more richly packed with functionality than Bose's, and the Arc is equally easy to control with your TV remote for the basics like power and volume. Both soundbars also support control with voice commands via multiple smart assistants.
As we'll touch on throughout, there are more similarities than differences, but with an edge in analog controls and a classier design, Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 takes this round.
Our pick: Bose Smart Soundbar 900
Features and connection
Boy oh boy, if you’re new to the world of Dolby Atmos soundbars, you’ll have plenty to explore in either of these options. With so many similarities, it’s probably easier to discuss what both bars offer before we get into the differences. Here’s a quick look at the similarities:
- Colors: Black, White
- Wi-Fi options: Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, multi-room audio
- Wired connection: Ethernet, HDMI ARC/eARC, optical input (Sonos requires adapter)
- Smart features: Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant built-in
- Dolby Audio decoding:Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos
As you can see, both offer plenty of options for network connection and streaming, and there are more compatible streaming services within their respective apps. As noted, the app also offers easy control of sound settings, including channel levels for the upfiring speakers that help create the immersion of Dolby Atmos. The apps also allow for control over any wireless speakers from within the Bose or Sonos ecosystems respectively.
Both bars allow you to add speakers throughout the home and sync or group them with your bar, or even add them as satellite speakers to create a full surround setup. But here's where things begin to differ a bit. Whereas Sonos has a relatively wide array of speakers to connect to the bar, including Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speakers for affordable surrounds, Bose restricts your choice of surround speakers that start at $349 a pair.
One feature Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 offers that Sonos doesn’t is Bluetooth connection. If you’re streaming over Spotify Connect or Airplay 2 for Apple Music, this probably won’t affect you much as Wi-Fi is the best way to stream for audio quality anyway. Plus, Sonos’ app offers plenty of support for other services like Deezer, Tidal, and Amazon Music, so most folks shouldn’t be left out of luck without Bluetooth, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Neither bar offers any additional HDMI inputs. That makes them best suited for those who stream most of their content online, as you’ll need to connect Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, or other components to your TV directly, using up precious inputs. Depending on how old your TV is, this also may limit your ability to source uncompressed audio from these devices, though anyone with a basic HDMI ARC input can stream Dolby Atmos. You can learn more about these options in our HDMI eARC/ARC guide.
Speaking of Blu-rays, Sonos’ Arc soundbar offers basic decoding for DTS (up to 5.1) while Bose’s bar does not. This may affect your decision if you have a lot of older media around the house mixed in 5.1, but your TV also plays a role in compatibility there since you can’t plug in physical media to the bar directly. Moreover, neither bar offers DTS:X, Dolby Atmos’ biggest rival.
This one’s too close to call. The Arc offers more ways to sync up with other speakers and more ways to decode your physical media, while Bose’s bar brings Bluetooth to the table and a built-in optical connection. We’ll call it another tie.
Our pick: Draw
This is really where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. There’s no doubt that Bose’s bar is an impressive performer, especially given its smaller size and the fact that it has fewer drivers than Sonos’ system. It offers truly premium sound quality, presenting detail and dimension that elevates everything from brass instruments to gunshots to dialogue. It’s an immediate upgrade from your TV speakers and many lower-quality outboard audio solutions as well.
The Smart Soundbar 900’s smaller upfiring drivers sometimes struggle to create powerful overhead effects, but the system does a splendid job of bouncing virtual effects around the room, creating impressively enveloping sound for its size. That’s aided by the included microphone headset, which calibrates the sound to your room—Sonos’ system requires an iOS device to do so.
But it’s telling that I keep referring to the 900’s size in this comparison. Simply put, it can’t keep up with the Arc for overall power or sonic expansion. For its part, the Arc also displays plenty of detail and premium sound for all your cinematic and musical adventures, including the recent addition of Dolby Atmos music streaming via Amazon Music Unlimited. But it goes farther with surprisingly potent bass for a bar of its size, and more distinctive overhead sound from the bar’s upfiring drivers, to create a convincing, hemispheric soundstage when sourcing Dolby Atmos content.
While you can upgrade either bar with a subwoofer for a richer cinematic experience, the bottom line is that the Sonos Arc fares better as an all-in-one sound solution due to its extra drivers (four more than Bose's bar), bigger bass, and overall more striking Dolby Atmos immersion. It’s why we named the Arc our favorite soundbar.
Our Pick: Sonos Arc
And the winner is …
This one is close by the numbers, but there can only be one winner. Thanks to its edge in performance, the Sonos Arc takes gold.
While both bars are excellent premium sound solutions, the Arc is the default choice for those who want one bar to rule them all. It’s easy to use, it incorporates brilliantly with extra speakers (grouped or in a surround setup), it has tons of great features and a comprehensive app to control them. Most notably, it offers the sonic punch you want from a single bar, even without a wireless subwoofer.
For its part, Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 is also a potent system, offering the majority of the features listed above, as well as more ways to connect and a sleeker, more stylish design that’s much easier to fit under your TV and on your console. Its only real drawback is that it's not quite as cinematic or powerful on its own. That said, at the time of writing, it's a lot cheaper to add a subwoofer to Bose’s option than Sonos’ Arc, which is something to consider.
You’ll likely be happy with either option, depending on your needs and use case. But if you’re looking for the best standalone Dolby Atmos soundbar for your money, the Sonos Arc is it.